One of the first female artists to achieve recognition in her own time, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) became instantly popular in the 1970s when feminist art historians "discovered" her and argued vehemently for a place for her in the canon of Italian baroque painters. Featured alongside her father, Orazio Gentileschi, in a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Artemisia has continued to stir interest though her position in the canon remains precarious, in part because her sensationalized life history has overshadowed her art.
In The Artemisia Files, Mieke Bal and her coauthors look squarely at this early icon of feminist art history and the question of her status as an artist. Considering the events that shaped her life and reputation—her relationship to her father and her role as the victim in a highly publicized rape case during which she was tortured into giving evidence—the authors make the case that Artemisia's importance is due to more than her role as a poster child in the feminist attack on traditional art history; here, Artemisia emerges more fully as a highly original artist whose work is greater than the sum of the events that have traditionally defined her.
The fresh, engaging discourse in The Artemisia Files will help to both renew the reputation of this artist on the merit of her work and establish her rightful place in the history of art.
“Over the last generation Artemisia has been transformed from a talented curiosity . . . into a standard bearer of early feminist consciousness. This book offers a fascinating glimpse into the critical frame of mind underlying this transformation.”—Keith Christiansen, Jayne Wrightsman Curator of Italian Painting, TheMetropolitanMuseumof Art
Combining literary criticism and feminist analysis, Death and Dissymmetry radically reinterprets not only the Book of Judges but also the tradition of its reception and understanding in the West. In Mieke Bal's account, Judges documents the Israelite culture learning to articulate itself in a decisive period of transition.
Counter to standard readings of Judges, Bal's interpretation demonstrates that the book has a political and ideological coherence in which the treatment of women plays a pivotal role. Bal concentrates here not on the assassinations and battles that rage through Judges but on the violence in the domestic lives of individual characters, particularly sexual violence directed at women. Her skillful reading reveals that murder, in this text, relates to gender and reflects a social structure that is inherently contradictory. By foregrounding the stories of women and subjecting them to subtle narrative analysis, she is able to expose a set of preoccupations that are essential to the sense of these stories but are not articulated in them. Bal thereby develops a "countercoherence" in conflict with the apparent emphases of Judges—the politics, wars, and historiography that have been the constant focus of commentators on the book.
Death and Dissymmetry makes an important contribution to the development of a feminist method of interpreting ancient texts, with consequences for religious studies, ancient history, literary theory, and gender studies.
The sculptor Louise Bourgeois is best known for her monumental abstract sculptures, one of the most striking of which is the installation Spider (1997). Too vast in scale to be viewed all at once, this elusive structure resists simple narration. It fits both no genre and all of them—architecture, sculpture, installation. Its contents and associations evoke social issues without being reducible to any one of them. Here, literary critic and theorist Mieke Bal presents the work as a theoretical object, one that can teach us how to think, speak, and write about art.
Known for her commentary on the issue of temporality in art, Bal argues that art must be understood in relationship to the present time of viewing as opposed to the less-immediate contexts of what has preceded the viewing, such as the historical past of influences and art movements, biography and interpretation. In ten short chapters, or "takes," Bal demonstrates that the closer the engagement with the work of art, the more adequate the result of the analysis. She also confronts issues of biography and autobiography—key themes in Bourgeois's work—and evaluates the consequences of "ahistorical" experiences for art criticism, drawing on diverse sources such as Bernini and Benjamin, Homer and Eisenstein.
This short, beautiful book offers both a theoretical model for analyzing art "out of context" and a meditation on a key work by one of the most engaging artists of our era.
When Mieke Bal reread the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife as an adult, she was struck by differences between her childhood memories of a moral tale and what she read today. In Loving Yusuf¸ Bal seeks to resolve this clash between memory and text, using the same story, in which Joseph spurns the advance of his master’s wife who then falsely accuses him of rape, as her point of departure. She juxtaposes the Genesis tale to the rather different version told in the Qur’an and the depictions of it by Rembrandt and explores how Thomas Mann’s great retelling in Joseph and His Brothers reworks these versions.
Through this inquiry she develops concepts for the analysis of texts that are both strange and overly familiar—culturally remote yet constantly retold. As she puts personal memories in dialogue with scholarly exegesis, Bal asks how all of these different versions complicate her own and others’ experience of the story, and how the different truths of these texts in their respective traditions illuminate the process of canonization.
A Mieke Bal Reader
Mieke Bal University of Chicago Press, 2006 Library of Congress NX65.B35 2006 | Dewey Decimal 700.9
Mieke Bal has had a significant impact on every field she has touched, from Old Testament scholarship and narratology to critical methods and visual culture. This brilliant and controversial intellectual invariably performs a high-wire act at the point where critical issues and methods intersect—or collide. She is deeply interested in the problems of cultural analysis across a range of disciplines. A Mieke Bal Reader brings together for the first time a representative collection of her work that distills her broad interests and areas of expertise.
This Reader is organized into four parts, reflecting the fields that Bal has most profoundly influenced: literary study, interdisciplinary methodology, visual analysis, and postmodern theology. The essays include some of Bal’s most characteristic and provocative work, capturing her at the top of her form. “Narration and Focalization,” for example, provides the groundwork for Bal’s ideas on narrative, while “Reading Art?” clearly outlines her concept of reading images. “Religious Canon and Literary Identity” reenvisions Bal’s own work at the intersection of theology and cultural analysis, while “Enfolding Feminism” argues for a new feminist rallying cry that is not a position but a metaphor. More than a dozen other essays round out the four sections, each of which is interdisciplinary in its own right: the section devoted to literature, for instance, ranges widely over psychoanalysis, theology, photography, and even autobiography.
A Mieke Bal Reader is the product of a capacious intellect and a sustained commitment to critical thinking. It will prove to be instructive, maddening, and groundbreaking—in short, all the hallmarks of intellectual inquiry at its best.
Doris Salcedo, a Colombian-born artist, addresses the politics of memory and forgetting in work that embraces fraught situations in dangerous places. Noted critic and theorist Mieke Bal narrates between the disciplines of contemporary culture in order to boldly reimagine the role of the visual arts. Both women are pathbreaking figures, globally renowned and widely respected. Doris Salcedo, meet Mieke Bal.
In Of What One Cannot Speak, Bal leads us into intimate encounters with Salcedo’s art, encouraging us to consider each work as a “theoretical object” that invites—and demands—certain kinds of considerations about history, death, erasure, and grief. Bal ranges widely through Salcedo’s work, from Salcedo’s Atrabiliarios series—in which the artist uses worn shoes to retrace los desaparecidos (“the disappeared”) from nations like Argentina, Chile, and Colombia—to Shibboleth, Salcedo’s once-in-a-lifetime commission by the Tate Modern, for which she created a rupture, as if by earthquake, that stretched the length of the museum hall’s concrete floor. In each instance, Salcedo’s installations speak for themselves, utilizing household items, human bones, and common domestic architecture to explore the silent spaces between violence, trauma, and identity. Yet Bal draws out even deeper responses to the work, questioning the nature of political art altogether and introducing concepts of metaphor, time, and space in order to contend with Salcedo’s powerful sculptures and installations.
An unforgettable fusion of art and essay, Of What One Cannot Speak takes us to the very core of events we are capable of remembering—yet still uncomfortably cannot speak aloud.
As period, as style, as sensibility, the Baroque remains elusive, its definition subject to dispute. Perhaps this is so in part because baroque vision resists separation of mind and body, form and matter, line and color, image and discourse. In Quoting Caravaggio, Mieke Bal deploys this insight of entanglement as a form of art analysis, exploring its consequences for both contemporary and historical art, as well as for current conceptions of history.
Mieke Bal’s primary object of investigation in Quoting Caravaggio is not the great seventeenth-century painter, but rather the issue of temporality in art. In order to retheorize linear notions of influence in cultural production, Bal analyzes the productive relationship between Caravaggio and a number of late-twentieth-century artists who "quote" the baroque master in their own works. These artists include Andres Serrano, Carrie Mae Weems, Ken Aptekar, David Reed, and Ana Mendieta, among others. Each chapter of Quoting Caravaggio shows particular ways in which quotation is vital to the new art but also to the source from which it is derived. Through such dialogue between present and past, Bal argues for a notion of "preposterous history" where works that appear chronologically first operate as an aftereffect caused by the images of subsequent artists.
Quoting Caravaggio is a rigorous, rewarding work: it is at once a meditation on history as creative, nonlinear process; a study of the work of Caravaggio and the Baroque; and, not least, a brilliant critical exposition of contemporary artistic representation and practice.
"[A] profoundly enlivening exercise in art criticism, in which the lens of theory magnifies rather than diminishes its object. . . . [A] remarkable book. . . . The power of Quoting Caravaggio resides in the intelligence and authority of the writer."—Roger Malbert, Times Literary Supplement
Reading Rembrandt questions the traditional boundaries between literary and visual analysis with close, side-by-side readings of some of the Dutch master’s works alongside paintings of the same era whose attribution is still debated. A new understanding of the role of visuality in our culture emerges, one that makes significant inroads, most particularly, for the study of gender in Rembrandt’s work. Demonstrating acute sensitivity to Rembrandt’s art, acclaimed scholar and author Mieke Bal gives new depth to an old master, a perspective with vast consequences for our views of gender, the artist, and the act of reading.
The dictionary. The ubiquitous high-gloss fashion ad. The fraught relationship between artist and critic. Sleeping Beauty ties these disparate strands of our everyday lives together only to strip away everything we thought we knew about each of them. A collaborative work by the artist John Sparagana and the critic Mieke Bal, this truly cutting-edge work takes the shape of a conversation between his creations—distressed, or “fatigued,” magazine pages—and her words, imagining anew the relationships of image to text and of art to those who write about it.
Bal contributes twenty-six essays, one for each letter of the alphabet, which borrow their organizing principle from the dictionary but reach far beyond the utilitarian purpose of a reference volume. Each one enters deeply into Sparagana’s work, illuminating concepts from Abstract to Zestful that inform, underlie, and lend meaning to the exquisitely ruined images he creates by crinkling glossy images from fashion magazines until their sheen disappears and they become soft and elastic. Unmooring the magazine page from its familiar context, these beautiful rags are rendered poetic by Sparagana’s unique art of subtraction, which physically rubs away not only ink and material, but also transience and commercial usefulness.
Just as Sparagana’s work intervenes in existing images, so, too, do Bal’s explorations qualify existing concepts. But together, in this inaugural volume in the new series Project Tango: Artists and Writers Together, they have given rise to something wholly new: a prophetic one-artist dictionary that simultaneously reenvisions the untapped interactions of images with words and the potential forms of the book itself.